Though eBay can be a great place to buy great bargains and rare items from honest people, there are often unscrupulous crooks trying to con customers out of their hard-earned money. Fortunately, you can often get back lost money through eBay's claims section, but it's best to take some steps to ensure you don't get ripped off in the first place.
- Check the seller's information and feedback rating. This is the fastest method, as you can do it at a glance. Optimally, you're looking to buy from a seller who has a very high volume of sales (1000+) and a positive feedback rating of 98% or better. Be very suspicious of a feedback rating as low as 97%! Three out of a hundred unhappy customers can be a strong hint of problematic sellers.
- Use Paypal to make your purchases. Owned by eBay, Paypal is a virtual bank account that allows you to instantly send money to anyone with an e-mail account, as well as transfer money directly to and from your bank account. When worried about fraud, it's important to create as much of a paper trail as possible, which Paypal helps create. For additional security, pay with a credit card, which you can do through Paypal.
- Never use a wire transfer. Wire transfers are meant to be a transaction between trusted friends and relatives, in case of an emergency. Once the money is sent, it will be incredibly difficult if not impossible to retrieve, because it will be paid out in cash with few receipts. If someone is asking you to send them money from a Western Union, alarm bells should be ringing loudly!
- When buying a car, always get a vehicle report first. A large fraction of cars sold online are in significantly worse shape than the advertisement suggests. Many online sites offer car inspection services for $50 or more. Remember, no site offers any sort of guarantee on a listed car, so often it's a case of "Buyer Beware." Also, be sure to check the shipping details of the car very carefully, as you might end up paying more to have a car shipped to you than the car actually cost!
- When paying a very large amount of money, use an escrow service. Escrow services will hold your payment until you receive your merchandise, after which you tell the escrow to pay the seller. Recently, a rash of fake escrow services have emerged, so be sure to use a well-established one, such as Escrow.com.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. While you occasionally might find significant deals online, don't expect to be buying premium jewelry or fancy electronic equipment for pennies on the dollar. Make sure to use common sense when shopping around.